In December 2015, the diabetes community welcomed findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed the first downward trend in the number of newly diagnosed cases of diabetes in decades.
However, groups concerned with type 1 diabetes found confusion and frustration in the numbers, as the study made no distinction between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Other research suggests that while the numbers of newly diagnosed cases for type 2 diabetes may have declined, cases of type 1 diabetics are on the rise.
Although the study shows progress in the right direction for efforts to prevent type 2 diabetes, the results don’t necessarily account for trends for people with type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is often linked to obesity, spurring efforts to prevent or delay the disease by adjustments in diet and physical activity.
Changes in diet or exercise cannot prevent or delay Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes results from the immune system destroying pancreatic cells – the body’s natural ability to produce insulin – necessitating the use of insulin injections or an insulin pump for life.
Of the 29 million people with diabetes, approximately 1.5 million have Type 1 diabetes, although the number may be up to twice as large. With 90-95 percent of diabetes cases being Type 2, any change or trend in the Type 2 population washes out even significant change in the Type 1 population. Therefore, the findings of the CDC study showing a decrease in newly diagnosed cases of diabetes are more likely a result of efforts to prevent Type 2 diabetes than a decline in the number of Type 1 cases.
That is not the only side effect of commingling data from these two different types of diabetes. The danger for researchers studying Type 1 diabetes is that results indicating a decline in newly diagnosed cases of diabetes could hinder efforts to secure needed funding for further research.
Unfortunately, data commingling becomes even more confusing for doctors and patients alike when considering changes in terminology over time. Type 1 was previously known as “insulin-dependent” diabetes, a misnomer since many with Type 2 diabetes rely upon insulin as well. Previous distinctions include juvenile and adult onset diabetes – later termed Type 1 and Type 2, respectively – which can also be confusing since many adults’ first diagnosis is Type 1 and many of those with Type 2 diabetes are juveniles.
Overall, the results announced by the CDC are good for bolstering efforts to employ dietary and fitness changes to prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes. These results, however, call for cautious optimism; heralding them as good news for all those afflicted with diabetes glosses over important distinctions not addressed by the study, possibly to the detriment of those with Type 1 diabetes.
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